Wednesday, February 28, 2007

on the exhalted guru and why he still so tortures us

Everyone I know is still haunted by this character from art-school.

Those of us who have experimented with mysticism and mystical apparatus and all those chanting, breathing-exercise goings-on find him (yeah, usually it's a guy) terrifically annoying. Particularly as the Exhalted Guru's chief experience today is usually made with reference to market factors, dealers (they're just down to earth people, man) and those creepy gallery people, you know, the buzz-cut women in their fifties and the art-clown in his alterna-costume.

I've written some pretty mushy things here, things that make the institutional artists cry. Like about Ancestory and Subconscious stuff... and trying to be honest, making art for personal reasons first.

But I hope I've made it clear that even real, mind-blowing enlightenment kind of stuff is really pretty low-brow for artists. Dude, we've been there, and it was like, WOW, ok, not going to save anyone with that heightened consciousness, now matter how high, broad or deep. That's low-brow mysticism. Admittedly, it's not as bad as the market-based stuff, but still...

The idea comes from this modernist thing, the fringe character on the edges of society, who has been to the top of the mountain, and heard god talking there. Not freaking Derrida, not some mamby-pamby who went to Brown and got a degree in talking to herself. Was talking to GOD man! It's a bit older than the 20th century really.

OK, so let's say for a second you accept that artists have been interested more or less in mysticism for like the last 7 or 8 thousand years. Before that everyone was living pretty much in the Mystical Soup, right ? Well, sadly, no, that is wrong. That 7 or 8 thousand years marker is good for the actual start of Mysticism but it happens to coincide nicely with the invention of agriculture, food surpluses (and thus POWER), and yes, sedentary living.

So my fellow nomads, I am sorry if I have lost you with this ramble. The next time someone tries to impress you by taking on the "I been to the top of the mountain" schtick or the "I talk this way cause it makes me seem like I know something" schtick, just say "dude, we are moooooving on, would love to stay and chat, but we really gotta eat tomorrow."

the cleaning of one's studio

Taking a cue from LaRose, (what is his blog called these days?) everyone must know the joy of finally cleaning out the old studio and re-discovering the weird stuff that got jammed away under a box full of scraps. With that, I will be re-launching the online Studio in the next few days, with new old-stuff. Most is not as weird as this. . . though perhaps some of it probably is.

Certainly some new new stuff will be in there too, perhaps some of the new stuff will be weird also, though I will be happy if its weirdness is not quite so, well, obvious.

These two rough drawings measure about 24 x 16 cms, and both are from the recesses of last spring. Neither strikes me as particularly unusual though I thought they held up to the passage of a year better than I would have expected.

Perhaps they aren't masterpieces. At least I was able to toss out the collection of empty jars and blocks of wood and pieces of fabric that had begun gathering.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

more art bloggers suckered

this is the sort of non-item, kind of clever thing that makes art so hard to deal with. A publicity seeking hacker imitates an artist who twenty years ago imitated somebody doing something clever so that we can all, again, elbow each other because we get it while the rest of the world wonders why we are impressed by such trivial things. If you want to write, write a book. If you want to do propaganda studies, do them in a format that matters and for an audience that can make a difference. Impressing other artists with pseudo-intellectualism just keeps getting easier.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

our eyes are not pro-active

I think pretty seriously that this fleshed out comment-cum-blogpost at Nonprophet art deserves a bit more attention. Here's what Geoffrey said:

What just popped in my head was the day i finally understood that our eyes aren't proactive. Our vision doesn't move out like tentacles and actually gather information. Instead we eat what little we are given through a slot under the door (again with the crack in the wall) as our eyes process light that enters them. and we learn that the different combinations of light is a this or a that. And we separate those this' and thats' and put them in a logical order, as bohm says, intitially, so that we can deal with them easier. Until our logic becomes so smug that it believes it can take it from here, and begins to tell our eyes what is and what is not. Our expericence becomes based on what we now think we see which forms our perceptions which eventually... yes... allows us to see only what we want to see. (and you can rearrange all that in whatever order you wish.)

Ok. Is that just too difficult for the CAA to comprehend? That smugness has become the raison d'etre of the whole art making machine, and it is based completely on the inability to see. Noticing the edge of your model's arm, and how that contrasts with whatever happens to be behind it, is not like first year drawing class stuff.

When I suffered the realization that Geoffrey describes above, I realized also that when one understands the glint on an eyeball, and that one has been missing that and a thousand other contrasts and pure, simple, characteristics, then one is facing the very means by which people are imprisoned in language games and meaningless gestures and lives. It is cleverness at language that allows us to bypass nuance and resonance. It is our clever reading of history's failures that allows us to make the same mistakes without appreciating that the splash of blood on stones sounds exactly the same now as it always did.

Just as capitalism is understood to be the answer to everyone's prayers, despite its disastrous effects on mankind, we are continually told that the problem of light falling on a naked body was solved a long time ago. In fact, it is just as problematic as ever and even more so a problem than private arms producers controlling the US government. We could (and should) imprison all of them, but we still can't see the naked body. Can't you just see those tenured MFA department chairs just insisting that they can see eeeeeeeeeeeeverything?

We can pretend all we want that what we are doing is seeing, gazing, gaping, oggling, leering, but we are left, of course, at the limit of understanding the moment we realize that we have chosen to see mostly the pussy and the boobs, those things to which we are particularly blind. That's why art people call it "reading," thus suggesting some common public will "read" the work. And of course that is precisely why we, those of us not looking for the television read on life, seldom tire of looking. And what simply makes it such a severe problem is that we know we have the capability of seeing, and yet we leave this faculty to be described by morons, Patrick Nagels with machine guns.

The point I think Geoffrey's post leads nicely to is that people, artists, whoever, who can see, who understand the limits of seeing, are less apt to be tearing other people apart. You can tear arguments apart. But it is much more difficult to tear apart someone who has discovered that light creeping around a branch or an arm is not the same as light coming out of a television. The light cascading from from a branch in the forest might finally be seen. The object of desire might be experienced, even indirectly, at last through someone else's eyes if not through our own. That's why I find it so easy to work with artists who understand this even when I can barely stand them personally. We get drunk and fight later about some stupid language issue, but we spend all day anticipating that one precious glimpse and providing them to one another.

This seems to me to lend a moral imperative to good painting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

16 million

so 16 million people live in "severe poverty" in the US. And the number is growing fast. Europe, meanwhile, has a "stagnant" economy, presumably with no growth possible.
According to the McClatchey article, the number of "severely poor" grew by 26% between 2000 and 2005. And the likelihood of things getting better does not seem very high. So anyone who tells you that the US economy is the most dynamic and wonderful in the world, is dropping important figures out of their definition of "growth," punto.

defending the CAA

I've been thinking for a few days about this incredible list of comments over at It is difficult to retain any of it because it is sort of like reading some kind of right-wing political blog. I just assumed that people in favor of the College Art Association had never heard of a blog because they were busy kissing any establishment ass they could get their lips near, but apparently not. They have opinions and they share them, as well they should.

We need to hear more from the people getting the fancy cell-phones and prancing around in pointey boots. The CAA is a retrograde version of American Idol that has not only outlived its usefulness, but which actively spits in the face of those of us interested in the arts and arts education. Sorry... I'm just saying.

Friday, February 23, 2007

the problem with, well, commodity exchange

If you're writing about your own artwork, eventually you start wondering why everyone writing about art is writing about someone else's art and then of course you start thinking that maybe "I too should be writing about everyone else's art" and then pray to god we can loop it all back together. It's this insufferable longing to be a part of something bigger than us.

I remember when I used to do art shows with my pals up there in the big old apple, how we would talk about who was rich and who was going to come to the show and somebody even talked to Jerry Saltz the week before and told him about it and so maybe he would come. Then I would always get very drunk , because my good friends, maybe even my better friends, were having an event that night at Mighty Robot and we would go and be very drunk. But the friends of mine who were actually putting that thing together, the better thing, were never drunk and were never concerned about who rich was coming. Rock and roll is always its own self-legitimizing cultural factor. I doubt they would have carried the thought along that far.

I would like to think that none of the artist friends I know are pretensious wankers, but many of us are, and though we all did in the past read Baudrillard and those other French people, we never quite got it and so we went on to pretend that the relevance was salient in our lives. And so we live in deference of these things that other people understand better than us, and they now are able to leave smarter sounding comments at Winkleman, and we have to try to thrash out some kind of suitably smart sounding alternative. And most important, we must live in deference to the marketplace that we accept now at last moves through Yale and New York and Los Angeles, while we press our faces against some Dickensian window pane and imagine that our thoughts are not obfuscated any more, the way they were then by those bullying grad school people who mostly just read the right stuff - only louder.

Then I think "what do I think about when I am actually making art?" Last year of course, while working, I listened to all six Harry Potter audio books in sequence 7 times in a row. I still remember Ron Weasley describing doctors as "Those muggle nutters that cut people up?" That was before I turned on to the Teaching Company college lectures. Now I am thinking about 5000 years of Chinese history. I found it really helped me to work with the linguistic part of my brain occupied by something rather less significant than what I was doing. Otherwise I would be talking to other artists or worse, people I used to know! But that is not to say that I don't think there is legitimacy in thinking about art and art history and something like a theory of art.

It is just like a theory of politics and government. That is also not happening and it's not happening because of NBC and the Washington Post and the New York Times. It is happening in the blogosphere obviously. Eventually one starts to think that if one is going to write about art then one really would need to screen out most of the smoke from the atmosphere. It is like going in shouting to solve the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off. The only people doing anything to solve it seem to be doing that and they keep failing.

I like to think about what my ancestors would have me remember if they told me something when I was young enough to remember them. Something that resonates. That photo is from the Digital South Asia Library.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

art powerlines

makes its return to my vaunted list of non-burnt art blogs. Check it out.

Sadly - i learned in March 2009 that art powerlines was put down last year after a bout with apathy.

there are two sides...

In case I've not been clear enough in all of my rantings.

There are those who think that the New York and Euro-centric views of art criticism, curation and education just need improving, and a bit more understanding. Clarity, and then the understanding will get better.

And there are people like me, who look at the accompanying illustration and wonder what is the difference between these guys and the art-scene as we know it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

realization and psychology

Therapy is the bugaboo that just drives art professionals and others wild. "WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR ART AND THERAPY?" they are always screaming.

That's because the art people we are stuck with, and the ones we are always trying to leave behind are stuck with this gross 2oth century view of "psychology" as this thing that lives, for good or bad, in our heads.

When I write about realization, realizing, understanding and growing into being the person that you are supposed to be, I write with the assumption that all of us come from an environment that is less than ideal for our own realization. That is to say, we come from a psychology that is less than ideal. But I don't particularly believe in a psychology that needs an acute focussed attention such as was conceived in the last century. Psychology today is an environment that artists inhabit and that artists are uniquely positioned to affect and improve upon.

That is why, to me, Venice seems like spam. How is it possible to improve on that environment (that psychology)? Is that not the point of art ? ok assume for a moment that it is not... In such a case one can approach Venice with the old psychology and try to enjoy the external environment of Venice with one's own psychology sealed faithfully up inside one's head as always. Then of course one is free to enjoy all the messages zinging in and out of Venice as if they were unsolicited emails from which you can pick and choose. "I like the African pavilion about starvation, but I say thumbs down to the Swedes' Techno Installation."

I mean really. It's a bit boring. Whenever I go to Venice I like to learn about Venice for the Museum it is, and that it can hardly improve upon. Then I think of this Biennale thing as sort of a bulk message folder and I say "Yes, I am sure I would like to delete all of it, thanks," and I go back to pondering what combination of sun and sand and salt can make the sea such a brilliant color. Doubtless there will be more than one artist there who could impress me, but they would well do the same thing in a cafe in Arkansas, where the environment and the psychology is doubtless in more need of attention.

Realization is the realization of environments, especially the ignored ones and the invisible ones. Those to me are the ones that need not messages and one-liners, but awareness and honesty. The ability to see Trieste or Venice is not questioned. Yet every city has an invisible sector. In fact, Venice should be famous for invisibility, mirages and blind alleys. Instead it seems to me it is famous now for pointed, focussed messages that we intentionally delete. Hope everyone's Carnevale was fun.

is the Venice Biennale spam ?

I am taking a lot of heat from some near sources for referring, in a comment over at ArtBlog Comments, to the Venice Biennale as Spam.

Let me make one thing clear. I write my blog for other artists, and I use that definition in a broad sense so that anyone with an interest in creativity or the creative process is included. I've been to the Venice Biennale a few times and every time I wonder why such a wonderful city would mar itself with such a gross display of dehumanizing amateurish shreck. I have no doubt that I could get plenty of Viagra pills in the Armory, that the value is terrific, even if they are shipped in from Canada but that is not what I would go there for.

Your credit history truly doesn't matter if your stolling the Giardini and happen upon the juxtopositions of modern culture with social commentary that truly causes you to want to re-think that second mortgage. The Corderie is a wonderful place to meet local guys and gals, all of them with pictures. I don't have any doubt that you could in fact meet them. It is not that spam is not true. What makes it annoying is that we don't care and we don't want it. We go to the Venice Biennale, just like we open Newsweek Magazine, and instead of information that changes us and opens us, we get events like this (from Wikipedia):

At the 51st Biennale, American artist Barbara Kruger was awarded with the "Golden Lion" award for life time achievement.

HA HA HA HA. Golden Lion! Achievement! God! You can't make this stuff up. Now, that isn't to say that there is no good content in Newsweek magazine. It's just that it has nothing to do with me. Newsweek and Venice assume that I have erectile dysfunction, and if I keep reading Newsweek or strolling the Giardini of Venice, well, I'll probably get it.

Some highlights from Taibbi

Some things worth highlighting from Taibbi's review of that Bush person's budget.

If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.
  • Cox family (Cox cable TV) receives $9.7 billion tax break while education would get $1.5 billion in cuts

  • Nordstrom family (Nordstrom dept. stores) receives $826.5 million tax break while Community Service Block Grants would be eliminated, a $630 million cut

  • Ernest Gallo family (shitty wines) receives a $468.4 million cut while LIHEAP (heating oil to poor) would get a $420 million cut
and on and on and on.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

teaching economics to kids holding cups

Remember that line about propping ourselves up? I've been fortunate enough to hear from no less than two people in the past week that they never give money to kids begging. Instead, they give them candy or snacks. The logic of this is that then the kids eat the candy or snacks and don't give the money to the lazy parents who are exploiting the kids.

As I've never seen either of these people with pockets bulging full of candy or snacks, the question comes to mind, when exactly do you give candy or snacks to these children? Or are the candy and snacks as imaginary as this justification you've been using for so long that you have forgotten when the candy and snacks fell away and you had only this little economic lesson to remember?

What exactly is the lesson ? Well let me remind you... You, like I myself, were fortunate enough to be born to parents who were more or less white and of a certain level of economic stability and relative prosperity. That is, no matter what, prosperity relative to kids begging in the street. And none of our hard work has anything whatever to do with the fact that we are and were fortunate while they were not. Your justification for withholding the 5 pesos that it took you exactly 2 seconds to earn in the name of some principal that clearly does not and has not ever actually held any value so that you can keep 5 pesos in your pocket and feel good about teaching some bloody lesson is not as principalled nor as justified as you'd probably like to think. You are surrounded everyday by people working harder than you will ever work, and they will never be fortunate. So please, the next time I hear this crap, may I see the candy and snacks you are passing out? Or may we be honest about the principals of the sugar coated capitalism you so aspire to teach? Being fortunate is not hard work, it is just lucky. And the lesson is for you to see your own fortune, share it, and quit lording idiotic principals over people who will suffer everyday for the next 70 years while we polish our principals.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What exactly are they defending?

Nice one from High Low & in between. What exactly are they defending ? Their right to make even more socialist money off the government ? Maybe they should change the Defense Department's name to the Evil White Guy
Welfare Department.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

on motivation and the resonance of things

every post should have a picture I left out of that last post, (though you might have picked it up in the comments) that the question I was responding to was along the lines of "How do you keep yourself motivated?"

It's a good question and it leaves out, or maybe relieves, the preachy tone that the post might otherwise carry. Maybe the issue is less being motivated than in having some reason, accepting it and understanding it. I can't imagine myself doing any kind of art on the social science model, artist as social observer, critic and commentator. So boring and so consistently wrong. Yet it's not a walk in the park trying to figure out that the part of you that ends up listening to you talking to yourself all day is smarter than the part of you doing the talking. (No, not you, Steven.)

The social implications of an art based in un-mediated people and what they think and how we act and talk and communicate and look is far more staggering than an art based on the false mystification of science. Science, including social science, is very good at rooting out mysticism. My writing and blogging and art making tries to do the same. In a way. Yet there is some un-mediated (un-mediated by language) activity that we experience and try to hold onto. Usually we do it by means of language. But I think we also do it by remembering, and some of that remembering we do through means other than will. That is to say, somethings just insist that we remember them even if we don't know why. I am haunted still by the same things that scared me as a child. Only now it is teeth-gritting fun to get chills, to leer into the abysses where things are still spooky. And fortunately plenty of the people who got good at looking into such things and remembering them throughout history also had a finger or two dipped in the mysticism bowl.

When I see art going on in New York and people talking about it, or the shows coming up this summer, I think about those people in line outside the Today Show. Part of growing into your art is realizing that you're really not ever going to face the audience of wankers they warned you about (and prepared you for) in grad school. Audiences are smart, they're not like the Today Show anymore than the Today show is like reality. Art professionals are catching up with us slowly, but they have cell phones to compare and they are not in any hurry. Being motivated is almost like being desparate. I desperately do not want to talk to art professionals when there are good people being alienated by shitty art. But I also desperately want to understand why when two things come together they mean more than thing A + thing B. In the sum of their two parts is a resonance the appreciation of which is the key to more than you might think.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

talking to other artists

Following up on the last thing I wrote, this is another part of a correspondence I've been involved in lately.

If i gather what you are asking, and try to ball up some kind of an answer, which is what I am doing... I will say it this way...

At some point in my meditation studies I realized that the actual energy I was manipulating if such a word is not too strong, in fact it is, ... the energy I was training myself to be aware of and observant of was identical to, and in fact was/is that very energy that so frightened and bewildered me as a child. A shrink would call my childhood experiences "night terrors" but I believe an African, at least some of those from the west of Africa (among the few I've read) would say I was still rather fresh from the land of ancestors, and thus blessed with their particular insight and mental energy.

They would also say that those most senior amongst us get crazy and insightful as, late in life, we all approach the same territory. This kind of awareness, unfortunately, lies dormant for most of our lives, but of course we glimpse it, or it calls to us in our dreams and we can only, frustratingly, appeal to it, to this awareness, in the most passive of stances.

By passive, of course, I don't mean laying down or doing nothing, but maybe listening is the best verb to try to use. When I read your message to me now, I snap to attention and my talking voice starts coming out and I must say my talking voice is not at all different from what I also could call my listening voice.

This is to say that were we leaning over two cervezas and talking I don't doubt that the both of us would listen exactly so that we could respond with the smartest or most clever answer, a mental state not at all different from talking. It is listening to hear what we want to hear and I believe this is the state of talking, of action, and not a state of passive receptivity.

The easiest illustration of listening is of course when you happen to walk into a room where any old painting by van gogh or rembrandt happens to be hanging. Of course, a crowd of the dazed tourists we normally avoid are there and you will see that of course now we can't help but move in closer to them. This is because when we witness such graceful and even brutal applications of paint we are forced out of this same voicey-talking head space and into a level of where we are so enraptured by what we see that we aren't anymore expecting to come up with a clever thing to say in response.

We might liken some of that experience to actually listening. To being calm enough that something inside is moving and we can become aware of what it wants. Listening is being able to discern motive and not only the enunciation of a given grammar, and that ancestral level of awareness speaks to us in conscious life at a level the perception of which requires a pristine patience and passivity and even compassion. Maybe that word "ancestral" sounds a bit bugaboo. I only know that I can dream things that I am unable to imagine and from that I conclude that the most powerful imaginative faculty I possess is not to be controlled or coaxed actively. If it wants to be boss, I believe I have gained from allowing it to be.

More to the point, it is our perspective that dismisses patience and understanding and quiet calm. I try to see the obsessive quality of rembrandts and van goghs in people of course. That is not so difficult, but finding it in rocks and buildings and trees requires us to learn how our bodies are in relation to these things that we label external. Understanding them as part of ourselves, I guess, requires an abolition of the concept of self that I am probably not ready to commit to. I'm not even able to, and perhaps that is just dying.

But I like to find things again that make me remember how terrifying things were when I was a kid. Something that glowed green or blue was more frightening than something that glowed red. And somethings glowed even when they weren't luminous, some things vibrated and the awareness that I could perceive this only because I was vibrating too was enough to send very powerful chills through me. Today I think those small things were there to remind me, NOW, that I have work to do deciphering what they wanted. These, to me, were ancestors who knew I would remember almost 40 years later and try to speak for them.

Of course, they don't need patience because they haven't got time. So I suppose i am driven by an obsessive compulsion to understand why I found a christmas bulb in the dirt, and 3 and a half decades later, the vision of it is as clear to me as its glassy cool mystery was in my hand then. It is like Borges' aleph, some kind of communion in which I see so much that the me seeing is lost too. Or nearly, I would like to imagine. When I remember the bag of shamanic article dumped on the table in the book by the African, they are similar. Mundane articles, a dried paint tube, a stone and a piece of rag. We have to be sure we are putting the best of ourselves into these things when we try to understand them. And that will be understanding.

I guess that is all I try to do. Set up situations where a message gets through.

Let me know your thoughts.